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Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. WOOLSEY. Madam Chair, I rise today to offer an amendment to titles I and II of H.R. 4078.

My amendment would exempt a proposed worker safety rule from the ``regulatory freeze'' and the prohibition on so-called ``midnight rules.'' This OSHA rule would update 40-year-old protections for those working around high-voltage transmission and distribution lines and equipment, which would bring them into the 21st century. If this amendment is not adopted, Madam Chair, many workers will be needlessly electrocuted or burned from electrical hazards--at least until unemployment drops to 6 percent.

Are we really going to make workers wait until the jobless rate is 6 percent before getting protections for workers against burns from high-voltage electric arcs that run as hot as 35,000 degrees? If we are, they will be waiting a long time, because this Republican majority shows absolutely no interest in passing a jobs bill.

Is it fair, Madam Chair, to make these workers wait for 6 percent unemployment before their employers have to assess and provide safe minimum distances from high-voltage lines? Is it morally defensible to make workers wait for a full economic recovery before they get simple protections like rubber-insulated sleeves so that their arms aren't blown apart from having contact with high-voltage wires?

Certainly not.

Unless the bill sponsor is aware of some new scientific discovery, 35,000 degrees feels just as hot no matter how many Americans are out of work. Shock at 14,000 volts of electricity does the same damage whether unemployment is 8 percent or 6 percent. Yet this bill seems to assume lethal hazards are somehow less lethal during tougher economic times. Even worse, this bill implies that preventable electrocutions are somehow acceptable whenever unemployment is high.

This is irresponsible, if not unethical.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Ms. WOOLSEY. Madam Chair, each year, 74 electrical workers covered under this rule are killed on the job. Another 444 are severely injured. OSHA is authorized to regulate a hazard when the risk of fatality is more than 1 in a 1,000. The fatality rate for workers covered under this OSHA rule is 14 times that level. Full compliance would eliminate 79 percent of these fatalities and injuries.

Madam Chair, the one-size-fits-all approach of this bill will block a commonsense, cost-effective rule that produces an estimated $4 in benefits for every dollar in cost. OSHA's proposed update would provide an estimated $100 million in savings every single year.

While the authors of this bill argue that the President can seek a waiver from Congress to allow the rule, I'm not buying it. As we saw with the so-called ``comma bill'' proposed by Mr. Sensenbrenner a number of years ago, it took three sessions of Congress just to fix a harmless typo. We all know that when a special interest wants to stop something around here, there are countless ways to win. If this bill is not amended, Madam Chair, Congress will be sentencing scores of workers every year to preventible electrocutions and to burns.

I ask for adoption of this amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Ms. WOOLSEY. Madam Chair, the gentleman from the other side of the aisle is not correct on this. If the President signed the bill, the regulation would be stopped.

In closing, Madam Chair, the adoption of my amendment will save the lives of Americans who work in some of the most dangerous conditions imaginable. It is ridiculous and it's downright cruel to tell these men and women who risk electrocution everyday that OSHA will only step in to help them when the jobless rate reaches some arbitrary level. Whether unemployment is 6 or 8 or 10 percent, whether the economy is strong or weak, we need to protect our workers.

I ask for Members to support my amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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